Friday, March 17

We left Agrigento this morning and made our way into the central part of Sicily heading toward the city of Piazza Armerina and especially Villa del Casale, a famous Roman estate with wonderfully preserved mosaics. This was another great opportunity to see Sicily's countryside, and we intentionally took back roads that rewarded with beautiful scenery. Most of the land is filled with olive trees, flowering almond trees, sweeping vineyards and farms of prickly-pear cactus (its fruit is eaten, made into jams and a sweet liquor that we had an opportunity to taste back in Erice). We found ourselves frequently stopping along the road to enjoy the scenery and to take pictures

We arrived in Piazza Armerina late in the morning and immediately visited the Villa del Casale. This was part of a 4th century Roman estate and is considered to be one of Sicily's most important archeological discoveries. It is best known for the intricate mosaics that decorated every room and were amazingly well preserved thanks to a flood that buried the estate in mud in the 12th century. The estate was excavated during the 20th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We enjoyed exploring the villa at a leisurely pace, again taking advantage of the lack of tourists during Sicily's slow season. The best mosaics are in the villa's long corridor and illustrate various hunting scenes. There are also depictions of various gods, mythical sea creatures as well as geometric designs.

After visiting the villa, we enjoyed another wonderful lunch (this pasta for lunch habit is going to be hard to break!), and got back on the road heading south toward the city of Ragusa. We didn't have time to visit the city of Piazza Armerina, but stopped to take pictures and admire its large cathedral standing out among mazes of small streets and alleys.

Ragusa is split into two cities. The larger, more modern part is called Ragusa and was entirely rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1693. The older part of Ragusa is called Ibla, and has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC. It is smaller, quieter, and filled with narrow streets that are very interesting to explore. Ragusa and Ibla are linked by a deep rocky valley that is accessible either through a winding road or a steep walkway. Ibla is home to some fantastic restaurants, and after checking in to our hotel in Ragusa (the "Mediterraneo Palace"), we made reservations for dinner and then drove to Ibla in the late afternoon. This gave us time to walk through some of Ibla's streets before dinner, and we enjoyed stopping in a few shops and chatting with local merchants who were able to speak a small amount of English. We have found that in general, few people outside of the hotels and restaurants speak any English at all, and we try to take every advantage of opportunities to speak with people to learn about life in Sicily.

Dinner at Il Barocco was fantastic, highlighted by a huge plate of grilled meats and vegetables that was advertised as a meal for two, but actually was probably enough to feed all of us. Given the fact that we also ordered two antipasta salads and two plates of pasta, we left extremely satisfied.

The drive back to the hotel was a real adventure. We're not sure how we even made it back to Ragusa, especially since the nighttime navigation was particularly difficult. Tomorrow we plan on exploring two other nearby towns - Modica and Marina di Ragusa.












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